In this week’s parasha, Mishpatim, we encounter the enthusiastic response made to the offer of the Torah: “We will do and we will hear” (Shemot/Exodus 24:7). This verse is famously interpreted to mean, “We will do, then we will hear;” that is, we were so excited to receive the Torah; we agreed to abide by it even before we studied its contents. As laudatory as this eagerness was, it ran the risk of neglecting the “hear” in our zealousness to “do.” Nevertheless, the study of Torah has long been among the most highly valued and compelling tasks of Jewish observance. Why?
The Israeli poet, Yehudah Amichai, wrote:
When God left the earth he forgot the Torah
at the Jews’ and since then they look for him
and cry after him, you forgot something, you forgot, in a loud voice
and others think that this is the prayer of the Jews.
And ever since they strain to find hints in the Bible
as to the place he might be found as it says, Seek the Lord where he is to be found,
Call upon him when he is close. But he is far.
The Torah is like evidence left at the scene of a crime (lehavdil). Although God’s presence can be difficult to detect in our modern, post-Sinai world, we possess the clue to finding the Divine presence once again. “Doing” the Torah won’t help us to find God. But studying the Torah just might.
Rabbi Mitch Levine